Ethnicization and Identity Construction in Malaysia: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Ethnicization and Identity Construction in Malaysia

1st Edition

By Frederik Holst


240 pages | 23 B/W Illus.

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This book is the first monograph to provide an in-depth and multifaceted study of the processes of ethnicization and identity construction in Malaysia, from the colonial period until the present. In his analysis, the author takes multiple layers of ethnicization into account and shows how these have shaped Malaysia’s socio-political system and society in different ways. Moving beyond a center-focused, top-down-oriented perception of identity politics, this work highlights on the one hand the role and position of a multitude of actors - from grassroots level to mainstream politics - who contribute to the persistence of ethnicization in Malaysia in numerous ways. On the other hand, it also shows where and under which circumstances possibilities for transethnic cooperation arise.

A multi-disciplinary approach, substantiated by empirical data based on qualitative and quantitative methodologies, provides a perspective that moves beyond stereotypical narrations of Malaysia as being constituted by mainly three separate, homogenous groups. At the same time, this book gives a detailed and comprehensive account of political and historical developments and constitutes a rich resource for any Malaysia-related research.

While the focus of this publication lies on Malaysia, the concept of manifestations and implementations of ethnicization provides an analytical framework that can also be applied in the study of ethnicization and identity construction elsewhere in the region and beyond.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: configurations of ethnicization in Malaysia - Current state of research - Structure 2. Reconceptualizing ethnicized identities - Race and ethnicity - Concrete issues: the role of language and religion - Ethnic identity construction and ethnicization - Beyond ethnicity 3. History of ethnicization in Malaysia - Ethnicized identities in Malaysia - The colonial system - After independence - Transethnic cooperation in history - Historical reframings and erasures 4. Manifestations of ethnicization - The ethnicized political and party system - Malaysia's ethnicized political economy 5. Implementations of ethnicization - Ethnicization through language and religious policies - Defining discourses and identities 6. Impacts of ethnicization - "Us" versus "Them": othering against migrant populations - Malaysia's universities: transethnic cooperation despite ethnic quotas? - Social activism between ethnicization and transethnic cooperation 7. Conclusion

About the Author

Frederik Holst is a senior research fellow at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. He holds a PhD in Southeast Asian Studies and an MA in Communication Studies, forming the basis of his research interests. His focus lies on questions of identity as well as the impact of communication technologies.

About the Series

Routledge Malaysian Studies Series

The Routledge Malaysian Studies Series publishes high quality scholarship that provides important new contributions to knowledge on Malaysia. It also signals research that spans comparative studies, involving the Malaysian experience with that of other nations.

This series, initiated by the Malaysian Social Science Association (MSSA) to promote study of contemporary and historical issues in Malaysia, and designed to respond to the growing need to publish important research, also serves as a forum for debate on key issues in Malaysian society. As an academic series, it will be used to generate new theoretical debates in the social sciences and on processes of change in this society.

The Series covers a broad range of subjects including history, politics, economics, sociology, international relations, geography, business, education, religion, literature, culture and ethnicity. The series will encourage work adopting an interdisciplinary approach.

New proposals for the series are welcomed.  Prospective authors should in the first instance contact the series editors, whose email addresses are:;; and


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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Regional Studies